Griffin / Mr Martini / Ecima

In four days we managed to cover much of the length of the industrial corridor in the north of italy. We met people who built motorcycles, made wine, ravioli, clothing, the most luxurious kitchen equipment, shoe makers and chef’s with world class reputations. Everyone seemed to make something of incredible quality with immense passion. The purpose of our trip was to meet up with Jeff Griffin and his italian colleagues who will be producing our new collaborative apparel.

We flew to Bergamo a widely spread city which sits under the shadow of the old town. Perched on a hill is a cluster of chapels dating back to the 11th century surrounded by beautiful old buildings all immaculately preserved. Passing from one to another you pass through centuries of the highest levels of artistry in there elaborate decoration.

We headed to a nearby town where we were to met Jeff Griffin at his factory. All I want to do in Italy is eat, we ate for most of the trip, where ever we could and as much as possible. As we walked through the town it was eerily quiet and it seemed possible it might have been deserted. Eventually we followed the sounds of chattering and headed up a stairway to find a bustling restaurant. We ploughed through three courses in the time it took other guests to touch their cutlery. I soon learnt that if you go for lunch in italy allow at least four hours.

The factory was an unassuming yet stylish building along a quiet street. We were greeted by the owner who showed us around some of their technologies. What was instantly apparent was the mix of traditional craft and high tech equipment, and patterns cut by scissors were then detailed with lazer cutting. We were shown one machine which used heat to create an almost invisible seem between two fabrics. There were computers that created 3d visualisations of garments that could analysed to see precise patterns of stress and weak spots. All these innovations meant they could produce garments to exact specification with high functionality

We were shown the luxury jackets they were working on. These included ranges for Louis Vuitton and Fendi alongside Griffins own range. This was high end Italian workmanship at its peak. Jeff Griffin has been working with this factory for over twenty year and there is a great relationship amongst the team.

It was amazing to see the first sample. The fit felt great sitting over my belt at the front and then the extra length at the back gave me room to lean forward on the bike without creating a back draft. There was ergonomic intuition within the design which gave it a tailored smartness and a form that made you feel ready to race. We had used the Italian Majo tech fabric in a forrest camouflage for the sample. The italian mill specialised in heavy duty highly technical fabrics for the military. These included durability, light weight, water proof and breathable qualities. Impact areas were reinforced with Cordura to offer resistance to abrasion.

The idea of the jacket was to completely encapsulate the wearer from the elements which came across in the details. The lycra storm cuffs completely sealed your arms from any wind and the collar was structured to hold itself tall creating a barrier with the helmet line. We are making four versions of the jacket in uniquely different materials. We will have an all black version in full Cordura, and then two special editions in Woolrich Buffalo Check and another wool from Fox Bros in Devon. The classic form of the jacket works across the fabrics and creates a distinct look for each.

We made a few adjustments to the storm guard and fitted the armour. The jacket featured Riri zips including all four pockets and will include a host of functional features on completion. I couldn’t have been happier with the design so far or the quality of the production. The owner of the factory was a keen motorcyclist as was his friend the owner of a near by ravioli factory so we all headed into Milan for the Eicma motorcycle show. The show is held in a newly built exhibition centre which is a vast structure that stretches on endlessly. A sea of people passed through security gates and flowed down a wide path lined by giant exhibition halls. Women posed besides motorcycles, lights and music blared and crowds swarmed from one stand to the next as giveaways were thrown out into the air. Promoted as the world’s largest motorcycle show its scale is mind blowing. Amongst the factory spec motorcycles were a few custom, concept and show bikes. The shrimp by Anvil was a great looking bike as was the new Brough Superior Centurion Edition which was launched at the show. It was great to see the guys from Hedon and there new helmet paint finishes which make me want to save up for another one.

We headed out in to the country side to a local pub that was a favourite of our Italian hosts and who specialised in sourcing the finest meats. The owner supplied the chefs at italy’s finest restaurants and travelled the world perfecting his BBQ skills. He came out with large plates of different meats which he had barbecued over different wood chips for us to try. Needless to say everything was intensely tasty.

The next morning we headed to the city of Verona where we were to meet Mr Martini for lunch at his restaurant special. Set in an original 1950’s gas station that was bought by his grandfather its italian modernist design is stunning. Inside your’ll find Mr Martini’s custom builds amongst the tables and hung from the walls, everywhere you looked. The restaurant itself is a beautifully designed space with hand fabricated furnishing made from the oil drums of a local oil company. Mr Martini himself is an incredible character and this comes across in everything he creates. There is a sense of humour and style that runs through his custom motorcycles and across the decoration of his restaurant and show room. Beneath the restaurant is a large bar and events space filled with the original Esso and Triumph dealerships signs. Here in this sound proofed space Nicola, Mr Martini’s real name, host his parties. Nicola’s son Matteo told us how they had used the four life size cut outs of the Beatles doing the Abby road walk to campaign for a new zebra crossing. They were successful and now they have their very own ‘Mr Martini crossing’ leading across the road to their show room opposite. The showroom lay in an eighteenth century building with a columned frontage. It was stunning and seemed to suit an Italian fashion house rather then a motorcycle showroom, but then Mr Martini is all about style.

We sat down for lunch joined by some of their friends and shared bowls of pastas made using their own family recipes. Platters of pasta kept being delivered and passed around before the table was filled with most of the desert menu. Everything with Mr Martini seems to be based on a mix of top quality and a bit of fun, never taking itself to seriously. This came across in the desserts that resembled desert island scenes and miniature egg boxes with assorted filled eggs. After lunch we were shown Mr Martini’s garage which had the same detail and style as his other spaces. A harley davidson soft tail was being turned in to a cafe racer on the bench and the workshop was filled with an array of beautiful custom motorcycles.

Nicola and Matteo were great hosts and a lot of fun. I have been a fan of Mr Martini’s custom motorcycles and it was amazing to see that this style and spirit are carried through his restaurant. It would be worth the trip to ride from London to pull up and have dinner in the old gas station.

We raced it back to Milan to make the Suzuki motorcycle party and made it as far as the city limits before things went haywire. Our GPS signal was jumping all over the map, we had no idea where we were, and the roads had become one almighty spaghetti junction. We looped around in ever decreasing circles until we finally made our hotel and has little left but to collapse in to the spa.

Back at Eicma the next day things had only gotten more intense. This time the halls were heaving, dj’s shouted out over the top of blaring euro-dance music, it was like a theme park. The event stretches out into the outdoor space between the halls and a full moto-cross track had been set up and everything from bikes to buggys pulled back flips over the jumps. It was great to experience motorcycling on such a scale and it gives you a perspective of how the machines are represented globally and how niche custom culture actually is.

The next morning we set off to Deus in Milan, my personal favourite of their flagships. Almost invisible from the street you head through an arch and into the courtyard of the Deus restaurant. There are various extensions of the brand creativity in different forms in each corner including the store, cycle-works, upstairs cinema and their stunning restaurant and cellar rooms. Milan has a great motorcycle scene and we wanted to visit other Officine Mermaid and South Garage but had to rush back to Bergamo.

All to soon it was time to come back to London, we had seen three cities in as many days and eaten a weeks worth of food. The Italian style is as present as ever and the quality and care that goes into everything they make is inspiring. But then if you want to stand out on the streets of Milan you have to make a lot of effort.

Andrew AlmondComment